On Veteran’s Day:
My paternal grandfather was a veteran of WW2. Born and raised in Italy, he was drafted and fighting for Italy at the time Mussolini was assassinated, after which he was taken captive by Nazi soldiers and held in a work camp. While in the work camp, the only food he was allowed was a ration of one potato a day. He attempted an escape on three separate occasions with a party of other inmates. The first two attempts failed and all other escapees were lined up and shot, leaving him the only man alive from his party. The second failed attempt was on Christmas Day. My grandfather succeeded in his third attempt at escape and went home to join the Italian police force, from which he was later fired for refusing to relinquish his iron he had been issued from the police department.
He is alive and well today at the age of 91, living in Pompano Beach.
He speaks little to no English, he still has his number from the work camp and to this day he does not eat potatoes.
My maternal grandfather was also a veteran. He was drafted and fought in Korea, 10 years before my mother was born. While there he became horrified by the atrocities committed by American soldiers, mainly against Korean civilians, and went AWOL. He was soon found and captured by US troops and as consequence, he was imprisoned, tortured and used (against his will) for military medical experimentation involving LSD.
Not long after the war ended he showed signs of PTSD and eventually bi-polar symptoms. In the 40 years following the war, the severity of his symptoms increased until he finally took his own life in 1996.
Not too long ago, at the Boca Raton tri-rail station, I met two more vets. Both older white men, one was named HillBilly and I cannot remember the name of the second man, but I feel like it was Frank. “Frank” and HillBilly approached me to ask for directions to the nearest motel. I told them where I thought one might be and described the bus directions for getting there. Both then boasted that they’d fought in Viet Nam, HillBilly said he was also in Korea. HillBilly asked if I’d like to see his scars and (though I said no…) lifted his shirt to show me the smooth patches of skin, describing the pain of being shot. He laughed, telling me that he was actually shot not by soldiers but by civilians, defending their village. “We’d get in there, find the pretty girls -” HillBilly grabbed my arm hard, “Do you know what we’d do to little girls like you?” he said “RAPE AND PILLAGE, RAPE AND PILLAGE!” Then he laughed a long laugh before telling me that he’d set at least one house on fire. Frank chuckled awkwardly but could tell by my cold angry stare that he should not join the conversation. I slapped HillBilly’s hand off my arm and continued to stare him dead in the eye without speaking. Frank finally added, laughing that they were just messin’ around and sorry for being rude but I continued to stare without speaking. HillBilly finally backed away, still talking about finding a motel and about how much money he was carrying and the bullet holes in his gut. I refused to break gaze and he slowly crouched then sat then laid down on the pavement. I said goodbye and left to catch my bus
Depression Hotline: 1-630-482-9696
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-8433
Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
Sexuality Support: 1-800-246-7743
Eating Disorders Hotline: 1-847-831-3438
Rape and Sexual Assault: 1-800-656-4673
Grief Support: 1-650-321-5272
Runaway: 1-800-843-5200, 1-800-843-5678, 1-800-621-4000
Exhale: After Abortion Hotline/Pro-Voice: 1-866-4394253